Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

Summary:"The Hundred-Foot Journey" is the story of Hassan Haji, a boy from Mumbai who embarks, along with his boisterous family, on a picaresque journey first to London and then across Europe, before they ultimately open a restaurant opposite a famous chef, Madame Mallory, in the remote French village of Lumiere. A culinary war ensues, pitting Hassan's Mumbai - toughened father against the imperious Michelin-starred cordon bleu, until she realizes that Hassan is a cook with natural talents far superior to her own. Full of eccentric characters, hilarious cultural mishaps, vivid settings and delicious meals described in rich, sensuous detail, Hassan's charming account lays bare the inner workings of the elite world of French haute cuisine, and provides a life-affirming and poignant coming-of-age tale.

My take: 3.5 looks
I know, I know. Again with the 1/2 look. I can't help it. The book was lovely in writing and so descriptive that I could smell and taste the words, but it didn't stay with me like a true 4-look-book does.

The story of Hassan and his family is beautifully painted by Morais from their time in Bombay to their eventual settling in France. The haute cuisine is a character in and of itself, making this a truly amazing journey.

On Bombay:
From the shantytown rose the pungent smells of charcoal fires and rotting garbage, and the hazy air itself was thick with the roar of roosters and bleating goats and the slap-thud of washing beaten on cement slabs. Here, children and adults shat in the streets.

On Harrod's Food Hall in Paris:
The Food Hall smelled of roasting guinea fowl and sour pickles. Under a ceiling suitable for a mosque, we found a football pitch devoted entirely to food and engaged in a din of worldly commerce. Around us: Victorian nymphs in clamshells, ceramic boars, a purple-tiled peacock, An oyster bar stood beside handing slabs of plastic meat, while the grounds were covered in a seemingly endless line of marble-and-glass counters. One entire counter, I recall, was filled with nothing but bacon -- "Smoked Streaky," "Oyster-Back," and "Suffolk Sweet Cure."

This beauty continues throughout the book, as Hassan meets the antagonist-turned-benefactor of the story: Madame Gertrude Mallory. A truly unlikable character, Madame Mallory's range of emotion, thoughts, experiences, and (finally) completely winsome charm is as full-bodied as a fine red wine. She surrounds herself with a variety of characters with whom the reader becomes attached, including Hassan's first lady-love, Margaret.

The journey continues as Hassan becomes famous in his own right, surpassing even his famous teacher. The delight of bringing forth cuisine morphs into the struggles of being in business. Like his father before him, Hassan grows to learn that passion always has a price.

There are so many layers to this book, it is impossible to list them here. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Carmen!

    It's been a while since I visited your blog. So sorry about that!

    You know, I was contemplating whether to buy this book last year but I didn't. I don't remember why. It sounds like it's beautifully written but I can see how it can fall short. We'll see when I'll give it a try.